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Life Cycle Thinking

From energy consumption to waste management, the cosmetics industry has taken a broad range of measures to enhance sustainability.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

Given the industry’s adverse environmental impacts, the need to innovate and design products and processes to improve sustainability is paramount.

Entrepreneurs in the beauty industry have heeded the calls for sustainability through Life Cycle Thinking (LCT). LCT is defined by the United Nations Life Cycle Initiative as a “way of thinking that includes the economic, environmental, and social consequences of a product or process over its entire life.” Focusing on each phase of a product life cycle, LCT is an essential framework encouraged by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Here is a look at the different stages of Life Cycle Thinking.

Sourcing

At the sourcing stage, entrepreneurs are advised to consider alternative feedstock for ingredients, not only because of green consumerism demand but also because of the declining supply of petrochemical feedstock. EcoVadis is an example of a platform that enables companies to assess the environmental and social performance of global suppliers.

Manufacturing

With regard to the manufacturing stage, production methods and processes can make use of efficient technologies to reduce water and energy consumption, as well as emissions and waste, in order to reduce the water and carbon footprint. Today, various entrepreneurs and companies in the beauty industry are now operating on clean energy.

Packaging

Cosmetic packaging has a high adverse effect on the environment, contributing to land and marine pollution, which undermines biodiversity. The main concerns regarding the cosmetic packaging are the excessive layers. Biodegradability and the 3Rs–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle–are also the mandatory words at the level of sustainable packaging. One example is the Singapore beauty company Homemade Heroes which is plastic neutral in their packaging. This means they use minimum packaging materials which can also be recyclable.

Consumer Use

A large proportion of the environmental footprint of wash-off cosmetic products, like shampoos and conditioners, occur during the consumer use stage. It has been estimated, for example, that around 90% of the total CO2 emissions across the product life cycle of shampoo stem from the heating and use of tap water. Innovative products are being developed that require less water during use. For example, Coco Veda is a Singapore-based health and beauty company that has developed concentrated shampoo formulas that require less water.

Post-Consumer Use

Concerning the post-consumer use stage, packaging waste should be managed in a way that reduces its environmental impact. One way that cosmetics companies have helped to combat the issue of consumer waste is to use compostable packaging (e.g. replacing petrochemical packaging with plant fibres). One notable example is Sprout World which has created the world’s first makeup pencil that can be planted and grow wildflowers.

Ultimately, all consumer products leave environmental impacts during their life cycles. Recognising the need to design products and processes that minimise their environmental footprint, companies in the cosmetics industry have implemented a broad range of strategies that contribute to improving the sector’s sustainability.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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